Natural supplements can include a variety of products such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, probiotics, and herbs. Supplements should never replace food, but they can help to boost nutrition that may be lacking in our diets.
Historically, people have used herbal medicines to prevent illness, cure infection, relieve fever, and heal wounds. Herbal medicines can also treat constipation, ease pain, or act as relaxants or stimulants. Research on some herbs and plant products has shown that they may have some of the same effects that conventional medicines do, while others may have no effect or may be harmful. People have used the active ingredients in dietary supplements for thousands of years to help health and to treat illness. Sometimes those supplements are the basis for some of today's common medicines. For example, people have used willow bark tea for centuries to relieve fever. Pharmaceutical companies eventually identified the chemical in willow bark that relieved fever and used that knowledge to produce aspirin.
Herbal products and supplements are intended to maintain health or treat health problems. However, they are not regulated by the FDA. This is because the FDA considers herbal supplements to be food, not drugs. An herbal supplement’s label can say how it might help, but it cannot claim to be a treatment for a disease or illness.
Not all herbs and supplements are safe. If you are unsure about the safety of a supplement or herb, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.